Jephthah

Hovering over Judges 11 this morning. Noodling on Jephthah, deliverer and judge of Israel. And honestly, not sure what to do with him.

He was a man of disreputable beginnings, the son of a prostitute. He was rejected by his family, his half-brothers running him out of town so that he would have no part in their father’s inheritance. Ends up in a foreign land and gains some level of notoriety as an outlaw leading a gang of “worthless fellows.” Out of sight, maybe, but not off the radar.

Such was his reputation that when the Israelites need a military leader to battle the Ammonites, they actively seek out and recruit Jephthah. “If I come back to be your deliverer,” Jephthah says in essence, “then I need to be your leader as well” (11:9).

And at this point, there’s a sense of type of Christ here. Controversial birth. Rejected by His brethren. Eventually recognized as the only hope for deliverance. Rightfully demanding that He be both Savior and Lord.

And Jephthah continues to impress. Though confident in his abilities, he recognizes that he will only defeat the Ammonites if “the LORD gives them over to me” (11:9). And not only does he look to the God of the Scriptures but he also seems pretty familiar with the Scriptures of God. Before entering battle with the Ammonites he tries to negotiate a settlement with them first. And his case is based on the record of Moses and of how Israel came to possess the land. The son of a prostitute, friend of worthless fellows, and he knows the word and will of God (11:12-28).

What’s more, he trusts in God:

“I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The LORD, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.”

(Judges 11:27 ESV)

And the happy ending that I so want is so close to playing out . . . “Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah” (11:29) . . . “So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand” (11:32).

Good! Stop there! Let him serve Israel without notable incident for the next six years and we’ve got the sort of story I find myself so wanting.

But . . . ugghhh . . . I need to wrestle with the rest of the story . . . the parts I would just as soon skip over.

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORDs, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” . . . So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel. Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.”

(Judges 11:30-31, 33b-35 ESV)

Dummy!!! That’s what I want to say. What’s that about? Why mess things up?

Commentators fall on both sides as to whether Jephthah’s vow resulted in an actual human sacrifice or whether his daughter was given to be a perpetual virgin in service for Jehovah. Either way, Jephthah was rash with his vow and broken by its consequence. And I’m bummed because of the cloud it hangs over what might have otherwise been a pretty positive story in a generally negative era.

So, like I said, don’t know exactly what to do with Jephthah’s story.

Doesn’t fit in a nice neat category of either “good or bad” . . . “victory or defeat” . . . “God honoring or not.”

But maybe that’s the point. God uses less than perfect people (Paul calls them “jars of clay” in 2Cor. 4:7) to accomplish His perfect purpose. While we might look to men to lead us, we trust in God to love us and work all things “together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Though our stories don’t always have a neat and tidy, happy ending, they always reflect an ever-present and sovereign, heavenly hand upon us.

And, if along the way, we see glimpses of the Savior, then we rejoice with the reminder that we are His. And, if along way, we are reminded of our clay feet, then we praise Him for His finished work on the cross, knowing again that we are more than conquerors not because of who we are, or what we can do, or how well we can avoid being caught up in sin’s snare, but because of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Such is the blessing of grace. To Him be all the glory.

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Sometimes, It Is About Us (2009 Rerun)

Hovering over Psalm 85 this morning. And while the mind is spinning, the fingers aren’t getting much traction. Finding it hard to put thought into sentences, impressions into paragraphs.

What grabbed me is the songwriters’ plea for restoration and revival. For knowing return and being re-energized. And the songwriters’ confidence, by faith, that the God who has been “favorable” in the past; who has already forgiven iniquity and covered sin; who has before withdrawn His wrath and turned away His anger, is the God of who will do it again.

And that’s where I kind of stall out . . .

So went back into my journal. Here’s how I thought about it one morning back in 2009 . . . unedited . . .

———————————–

So . . . it’s Psalm 85 that I’m chewing on this morning. There’s always a danger about jumping to application too quickly . . . but hey, I think “devotional reading” is not so much about gaining some knowledge for the day as it is about picking up some practical tips or receiving some encouragement for navigating what’s ahead in the next 24 hours. And the middle section of Psalm 85 seems to provide some fuel for the fire as I head out for the day . . .

Ok . . . the big picture . . . I don’t know exactly what the nation of Israel or the Psalmist are enduring at the time this Psalm is written but it seems to be some pretty tough stuff . . . stuff that has made God seem somewhat distant . . . as if He’s angry with them. Based on my readings in Judges, it feels like the kind of position they might be in when they have turned from God toward idols, when God has judged them through other nations, and, as a result, their hearts are being turned back to their God and they’re seeking His deliverance. And the Psalm seems to have 3 main parts: 1) God, You have been our deliverer in the past . . . You are mighty to save . . . You have covered sin and forgiven our iniquity; 2) Do it again God; 3) I’ll rest in confidence that You will answer my prayer and act . . . I will know God’s intervention . . . I will hear His voice . . . mercy and truth will meet . . . righteousness and peace will kiss . . . my God is so faithful, it’s a done deal! And it’s that “do it again God” portion of the Psalm that’s got me thinking.

As I read verses 4 through 7 over and over they really seem to be about “us” . . . literally . . . “Restore us” . . . “Revive us” . . . “Show us Your mercy” . . . “Grant us Your salvation”. Sometimes . . . it is about us . . .

Now while the Psalmist’s exact situation may not be something I’ve known, there are times when I feel like I’ve been de-railed . . . my focus shifted from my home in heaven and consumed with the circumstances of my pilgrimage . . . times when God doesn’t seem “as close” . . . and I know it’s not that He’s moved, it’s me . . . and at some point while in this “distant land,” I realize a thirst for the way things were . . . when God and I were really enjoying communion and fellowship . . . and in that place, it seems to me that it would be appropriate to take the Psalmists queue and make it about us . . .

Restore us, Lord . . . bring us back to that place, my God . . . return me to the intimacy I have known with You . . . that’s my desire . . . I look to Your gracious work. Revive us, Lord . . . give back some life . . . stoke the fire . . . refresh the weary . . . jazz the un-jazzed . . . that my thirst would become full out pursuit . . . that my pilot light would fan into a rip, roaring flame . . . again, Your gracious work. Show us mercy, Lord . . . let me know again Your goodness . . . Your kindness . . . Your faithfulness . . . remind my repenting heart that the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin . . . let me see again the cross and it’s all sufficiency to cover all my transgressions . . . open my eyes afresh to Your mercy and grace, that I might be encouraged. And, finally, grant us Your salvation, Lord . . . deliver me from current uncertainty . . . let me know victory — not necessarily over my particular circumstance — but over the sense of separation I have from You . . . victory from the doubts . . . victory from the depression . . . victory from the distance. God . . . make it about us . . .

Oh, that I would have the Psalmist’s heart . . . that when the going gets tough, that I would getting going to my God . . . and prevail upon His grace . . . and seek His face . . . that He would restore . . . that He would revive . . . that He would show mercy . . . that He would grant salvation. That I would do so with confidence knowing that He will respond and speak peace to His people and to His saints (85:8) . . . that His salvation is near and that His glory will dwell in the land (85:9).

Father, thank You that sometimes it is about us . . . and our need for You to draw us again to Yourself . . . Revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You (85:6) . . . for our blessing and benefit . . . and for Your glory . . . amen!!!

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The 300

We know it’s not about us . . . but maybe, just maybe, we like to think it is a bit. We know it’s not about who we are or what we’ve done . . . but I wonder if deep, deep, down, sometimes we like to think it could be, if even only a little.

Reading again in Judges this morning. And I’m chewing on the 300.

In Judges 6 the Angel of the Lord (another pre-incarnate visit by the Second Person of the Trinity?) tells Gideon that he has been called and is being sent to “go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian” (6:14). But Gideon is kind of aware of how un-mighty “this might of yours” is. His clan is the weakest in Manasseh and he is the “least” in his father’s house (6:15).

And he’s not kidding. He’s not just being humble. He really isn’t all that mighty.

When God asks him to tear down the altar of Baal his father has built, while he obeys, “because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night” (6:27). And then, he tries to avoid graduating from tearing down altars to inanimate objects to facing an army that has horribly oppressed Israel for seven years by testing God’s resolve with a fleece (6:36-40).

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing Gideon. By Judges 7 he’s ready to go into battle. I’m just saying he may not be your stereotypical mighty man material.

It gets really interesting in Judges 7 when Gideon’s call for men to follow him into battle ends up with 32,000 fighting men responding. Ok, now I might be feeling a bit better about this whole kick-some-Midian-butt thing. But God says, too many men for me to give the Midians into your hand–pare it down “lest Israel boast over Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me'” (7:3). So 22,000 men are sent home. Only 10,000 left. If it’s me, sweat is forming on my brow.

But God says, “Still too many.” And He gives Gideon the next level of filter.

So [Gideon] brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.”

(Judges 7:5-7 ESV)

I have a picture of me at those waters from a trip to the Holy Land back in ’97. And guess what?  I’m not kneeling, I’m putting my hand to my mouth. (What was I thinking!?! Really? I want to be one of those 300 guys going against that enemy hoard? Give your head a shake, Corak!)

Anyway, I posed for the picture that way because our tour’s Bible teacher said God picked the 300 who put their hands to their mouth because it showed they were alert and ready for battle. That they wouldn’t go to both knees because that was a compromising position and not very soldier like. That those who took time to get down on their knees for a drink were eliminated while those who quickly lapped like a dog and were ready to move on were kept. (Now that I think about it, sounds like a reason for boasting to me.)

But what if wasn’t about these guys being the elite of the elite? What if it was simply about the number 300?

What if the guys who lapped their water did so because they had bad knees? What if they didn’t get down because they weren’t sure they could get up? What if they were so nervous that they weren’t sure they could keep the water down and so just took a little sip? What if it wasn’t about them at all? What if it wasn’t about who they were or what they had done? What if it was simply about God wanting only 300? And those 300 would do?

I’m not saying that my Israel tour Bible teacher was wrong or that I have any new revelation. I’m must noodling on the fact that God wanted to make sure there was no doubt in anybody’s mind as to who defeated the Midianites. That God wanted the smallest, and therefore weakest, army possible. That it wasn’t that God needed a few good men, but that He wanted a few men of faith. Men willing to go into battle because God had called them to and they believed Him when He promised that He would go before them.

What if it was just about the 300?

Then it would show the amazing grace of God, alone.

Then it would be to the eternal praise and glory of God, alone.

And it really wouldn’t be about us.

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In the Battle

Noodling on the story of Deborah and Barak in Judges 4 and 5 this morning. And to be honest, the danger in familiar stories is that the lessons are familiar, too. In this case, before I even start reading I’m thinking about Barak’s unwillingness to go into battle unless Deborah goes with him. And so, when I get to her response, where the prophetess Judge of Israel says, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9), I’m thinking, yup, Barak blew it.

Failure because of a lack of faith, I’m thinking. Came in second place because he settled for second best, I’m thinking. Poor Barak, I’m thinking.

But then, something I read in the celebratory song penned by Deborah and Barak after Sisera and his army of chariots are defeated, has me rethinking things a bit.

Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:
   “That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
    that the people offered themselves willingly,
    bless the LORD!”

(Judges 5:1-2 ESV)

The leaders led. The people offered themselves willingly. Bless the LORD!

Barak’s story might not permit him to take on the super-hero status I would have liked, but bottom line? . . . He was in the battle.  He led as he should have.  To God be the glory.

As I chew on it, who am I to sit in judgment of this commander of Israel’s army? He had lived through the 20 years of cruel oppression under Sisera and his boss, King Jabin (4:1-3). Though Deborah was known as a prophetess and had been a faithful judge in civil matters, her “thus sayeth the LORD” that now was the time for an army of infantrymen to take on an army of chariots may have come from out of left field a bit. Probably no better way to test how certain the prophetess was that she had heard the voice of the LORD then to say, “Ok then, how about you go with me?”

Regardless of what Barak was thinking, how much he battled the fear factor, or to what degree he sported feet of clay, bottom line is that he went. He was in the battle.

The leaders led. And when they did, the people offered themselves willingly. Bless the LORD!

Barak was man of faith. How do I know that? Because he was in the battle. And, because the Scriptures says so . . .

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

(Hebrews 11:32-34 ESV)

Barak would never have the selfie of him standing over a defeated Sisera, that honor would be given to a pilgrim’s wife who knew how to work a hammer and tent peg (4:21). But Barak had led his army of foot soldiers against an army of horses and chariots, with Deborah at his side, believing that God would go out before him. And the LORD did route Sisera “and all his chariots and all his army” and He did it by the edge of Barak’s sword (4:15).

The leader’s led, by faith. The people offered themselves willingly, by faith.

A prophetess Judge was found trustworthy, a pilgrim’s wife was found courageous, and a commander of the army was found faithful, being where he should have been, in the battle.

And this too, by faith.

Bless the Lord!

For His grace. For His glory.

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Drive Them Out . . . Again (a 2013 rerun)

Looking back through my journal, it’s been a reading that I’ve spent extra time “chewing on” seven of the past ten years. The opening chapters of Judges have repeatedly served as a fresh warning against the propensity to compromise. The Israelites failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land an ominous reminder of what happens when we get comfortable with the sin in our lives, or try to buddy up with the world around us.

They thought they were strong enough to live over their enemies and were confident that they would continue to submit them to forced labor–their arrogance blinding them to the real danger of their enemies’ gods gaining the upper hand and having dominion over them. Thorns that festered in their sides, snares that would eventually entrap them, that’s what they would become (Judges 2:1-3).

If for no other reason then the a regular reminder of these types of ageless warnings, having a plan to read repeatedly through the whole Bible on a regular basis has been of great value for me.

This morning, I’m rerunning some thoughts from 2013 that I remixed from some thoughts in 2008. The message unchanging, Drive Them Out!

————————–

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!” So goes the old western movie cliche. So sets up the confrontation at high noon. If one ain’t leavin’ peaceably-like, then the other’s gonna make him git! So what’s got me thinking of old western re-runs? (Or was it a Bugs Bunny cartoon? . . . whatever.)  It’s the opening chapter of Judges and the ominous foreshadowing of a phrase repeated nine times. The land wasn’t big enough for the Israelites and the Canaanites . . . but the Israelites did not “drive them out.”

Through Moses, God had made the game plan clear. He was going to give them the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were to go up in the power of His might and possess the land.  And they were to rid the land of its previous inhabitants . . . completely!  The warning had been clear:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.

(Numbers 33:55 ESV)

Any Canaanite remnant would tempt the Israelites away from their God.  Their worship would contaminate true worship.  Their world-view would obscure heaven’s view. And so the charge was unambiguous, “Drive them out!”

Looking at the original word, it looks like it has the idea of possessing or inheriting by the means of dispossessing or impoverishing. Moving into the promised land of God was dependent on completely evicting the previous owners.

But they did not completely drive out the inhabitants of the land.  They allowed them to live among them or they pressed them into forced labor. Bottom line is that God said they needed to be gone, and the people settled for “mostly gone” or “kinda’ gone”.

And Judges 2 says that within just a few decades the result was disastrous. Within a generation, “the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judges 2:11).

These pagan nations left to live among them became a snare to them in subsequent generations. In particular, their gods and pagan religions became an alluring trap. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, but, as the next generation grew up, those who didn’t have this first hand knowledge started being attracted to other gods. And our God, who is a jealous God and will not share His glory with another, dealt with this infidelity quickly and harshly.

Thus the vicious cycle of Judges: the people serve other gods . . . God judges them by allowing the nations around them to oppress them . . . the people cry out to God for deliverance . . . God raises up a judge to deliver the people . . . there’s a time of peace . . . and then the people slip back into serving other gods . . . and so it goes.

And so the warning is pretty clear to me . . . Drive them out!

By the abiding grace of God and the indwelling power of His Spirit, I need to put away that which is temptation and can become a snare. I need to renounce that which is of the world and would fester as a thorn. As much as lies in me, I need to leave no fuel to feed the old nature’s fire. I need to dispossess the things of the old man and the old way, that I might fully possess that which God has promised for the believer.

Drive them out!

By His grace . . . for His glory . . .

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!

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Listen to Me

Was awake earlier than I had hoped this morning. So, did a “double portion” of my reading plan. And reading Psalm 80 and Psalm 81 back-to-back provided context for a conversation between God and His people that I would have missed otherwise.

Psalm 80 begins with the poet of God’s people desperately crying out to God, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel.”

Though they had been a vine brought out of Egypt and planted in a land of promise, things had gone south. Though they had once taken deep root and born much fruit, as the songwriter looks around, the walls are broken down, all who pass by pluck the fruit, and the wild beast of the forest ravages the vineyard at will.

The people had given God their back. God had responded by feeding them with “the bread of tears.”

And so, the psalmist pleads again and again . . .

Restore us, O God;
   let Your face shine, that we may be saved!

(Psalm 80:3 ESV)

Three times this petition is found in the song.

Cause us to return, Lord. Turn us back. That we might know again Your face. That we might walk again in Your light. That we might be delivered again. Liberated again into the freedom You intended when You first redeemed us from Egypt’s cruel bondage. Restore us, O LORD. Let Your face shine. That we may be saved!

Then we shall not turn back from You;
   give us life, and we will call upon Your name!

(Psalm 80:18 ESV)

And then I read Psalm 81. And again notice a lyric repeated. But this time it is the response of the Great Shepherd:

Hear, O My people, while I admonish you!
   O Israel, if you would but listen to Me! . . .
Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
   that Israel would walk in My ways!

(Psalm 81:8, 13 ESV)

Listen to Me. Cease with Your vain calls to worship. Don’t think for a moment that mindless, rote celebrations of My works is the way to favor. I don’t need to hear again the praise and trumpets of people who “honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Rather, you need to hear Me. To listen to My voice. To follow My counsel and not the leading of your stubborn hearts. To walk in My ways. To be still and know again that I am God. Oh, that My people would listen to Me.

Perhaps when we sense a silence from heaven it’s not because God has ceased to speak, but we have ceased to listen. We’re not in His Word. We’re not really interested in His way. We just want things to be easier and know His favor.

And so we cry, “Restore us, O God!” To which God may be responding, “Listen to Me, My people!”

I am the LORD your God,
    who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

(Psalm 81:10 ESV)

What a promise! How often is the cause of a sense of His failure to shine on us the result of us having turned our back on Him. We don’t have His face, because we have not given Him ours.  But when we give Him our face, when we open wide our mouth, He will fill it.

When we seek Him wholeheartedly, He will be found. When we ask Him sincerely, He will respond. When we knock at His door earnestly, we will find that, all the while, He has been waiting at our door patiently, ready to come in and dine with us, and open the doors of heaven to us.  Our hearts burning again within us as we hear again His voice speaking to us.

Listen, My people!

Yes, Lord!

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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His Promises Never Fail

The verses gave pause as I read them this morning. A reminder of the goodness and faithfulness of God, yet a reminder of my inclination to not fully enter into that goodness and faithfulness. A reminder that while there is victory in the Lord, I still need to engage the enemy. A reminder that while God has done the work, mine is still to enter fully into His rest. A reminder that while I may fail to fully appropriate His promises, His promises never fail.

Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that He swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as He had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

(Joshua 21:43-45 ESV)

And so the “Take the Promised Land” campaign concludes. Kings defeated. Enemies devoted to destruction. Land allotted. Cities divvied up. Well . . . mostly.

As I read these verses I remembered that, at least on a couple of occasions, enemies were not removed (13:13, 16:10). That some cities were yet to be occupied (15:63). That clean up still needed to occur. So how could it be said that “all the land” was given and that “all their enemies” had been given into their hands?

Because they were in the promised land. Though they were yet to possess it all, the LORD had already given it all. Just as promised. Through they were yet to have fully moved in, possession had been fully determined and rest on every side had been provided. Just as God had sworn to their fathers. Though there were still enemies in their midst, God had already given them all into their hands. They just needed to engage the enemy.

There is no sense that God had failed in anyway to deliver on His promises, only a recognition that the people were yet to fully appropriate them. The land was theirs. The cities were theirs. The rest was theirs.

God’s good promises were fulfilled. All came to pass. The work was finished. And theirs was to continue to fully enter into that finished work.

Any sense of shortcoming was not a failure to fulfill the promise but a failure to fully enter into the promise. Not a matter of God’s inability to deliver, but of man’s need to pursue and appropriate.

The divine record stands:

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Any perceived deficiency concerning the promise is our issue not, for God is faithful and His word is sure.

Let God be true though every one were a liar.   (Romans 3:4 ESV)

The work is finished. Jesus said so (Jn. 19:30) . . . and it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18). What’s more, the promises are fulfilled in Him–“Yes and Amen” (2Cor. 1:20).

Mine is to, by faith, pursue all that has been promised in Christ, through Christ. Faithfully entering into the land He has promised. Courageously doing battle with the enemies He has defeated. Confidently entering into the rest He has provided.

Knowing with assurance that His promises never fail.

By His amazing grace. For His all-deserved glory.

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